Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein | Casinos, racinos and racetracks in this country are not known as citadels of higher education, although they have taught valuable lessons to many.
This week they will help teach and educate five more.
For the 31st year, Harness Tracks of America (HTA), an association of 37 pari-mutuel operations in the United States and Canada, will help send five worthy young people to college, and will do so with an enterprise that enriches others as well.
It will sell at auction 220 works of horse racing art, from classic bronzes and woodcarvings to beautiful oils and watercolors, by contemporary artists and masters of the past, and a treasure trove of more than 50 original 19th century lithographs
The latter mirror life in this country in a less hectic and slower time, when doctors, merchants, lawyers, chiefs – yes, and candlestick makers, butchers, bakers and thieves as well, as the old children’s ditty went – got around thanks to the labors of the horse.
Racing may have started in this country on the plains of Long Island in New York, but it became a universal sport as well as a mode of transportation in the mid to late 1800s, when if you chose to move from place to place you called on the family horse to get you there.
The great lithography firm of Currier and Ives in New York City, and their rivals Haskell and Allen in Boston, captured those days for history and posterity with lithographs that sold literally for a nickel, and were framed or simply tacked up on walls across the nation.
That era ran from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, when photographs drove lithographs off the scene, just as cars drove horses off the roads. But before they did, those lithography firms and a host of others captured the action for all time.
Currier and Ives’ lithographs returned to popularity in the 1930s, when the survivors of the earlier golden age became popular collectors’ items.
Today they bring hundreds and thousands of dollars, and this week’s HTA exhibit and sale in Lexington, Kentucky, is offering some of the very best.
You can see them on the Internet at www.harnesstracks.com, or www.elegantequineart.com, the lithographs and all the other fascinating works of equine art collected worldwide by HTA. And you can bid on them, if you choose, by contacting HTA headquarters at 520-529-2525, or at [email protected], and arranging for live telephone bidding. If you are fortunate enough to be in Lexington, as we are at the moment, you can see them in living color at the Red Mile racetrack, where all 220 are on display daily until Saturday morning, when we will have the privilege of selling them to the highest bidders.